Year Of The Under Dog: Trump & Trudeau Defy Low Expectations
Points of intersection between Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump are few, if any. But those that exist illustrate a singular truth of the current electoral climate: Don’t take the underdog for granted. As Stephen Harper and the Republican Party have learned to their chagrin, if you set your rival’s bar of accomplishment too low, you won’t be in office for long.
Harper famously portrayed Liberal leader Trudeau as a fatuous Momma’s’ Boy who couldn’t find the PM’s residence with a map and two GPS systems. This strategy made some sense— he’d previously characterized Stephane Dion as the M. Dithers of the green cult. Dion melted away under the harsh glare of Conservative scorn.
Next, Harper targeted Michael Ignatieff, Dion’s successor as the head of the Parti Liberal. Iggy was supposedly the elite intellectual snob who’d been away too long from daily Canadian life. Ignatieff had no comeback for the TV commercials that painted him as an interloper who wanted the PM’s job until something cushier opened up at Harvard or Cambridge.
After those two (who at least had some track record to pulverize) Trudeau was going to be a clay pigeon. A snowboard instructor whose principal claim to fame was not getting knocked out in a charity boxing match with Senator Patrick Brazeau, Trudeau offered infinite opportunities for sarcasm.
His early forays in Parliament only cemented the image of a frosh pledge caught outside the dorm without his keys. A D’Artagnan mustache and a boyish smile were hardly going to make Canadians forget Laurier, Mackenzie King or even his own father, Pierre Trudeau.
But a funny thing happened to the way to Harper’s third majority mandate. First, Harper decided to stretch the election to run an unwieldy 11 weeks— five more than normal. The better to keep putting out TV ads of Trudeau as the twerp of twerps. Trudeau mounted his victory in the final two week so the extended election-- weeks he wouldn't have gotten in a normal cycle.
Second, he gave Trudeau an expectations bar so low even a Bassett Hound could have Fosbury Flopped it with ease. Once he’d shown he could tie his own shoes, Trudeau became a plucky overachiever. For Trudeau, Harper’s lowered expectationsproduced the comeback win.
Now we have Trump, the bumptious billionaire who thinks all the world’s a Howard Stern stage. Thrown into a mosh pit with 16 other GOP candidates for the party nomination, Trump was thought to be the amusing undercard before the Florida titans— Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio— took on the Texas tornado Ted Cruz. Married three times, a reality show TV star, prone to extemporize when silence was the better option, Trump was allegedly unelectable.
It was all the Republican brass and the media savants could do to keep from laughing as the man with the bouffant hair weave wandered onstage to debate them. What was he going to say when they talked about nuclear disarmament, gender identity or quantitative easing— the sujets du jourin the talking salons of Georgetown?
The media suggested it would be the worst slaughter since Gettysburg. Instead, Trump had instinctively understood a few gut issues that may not have passed muster any dinner parties on the Potomac. Issues that with which a stunning number of Americans were simpatico. Immigration. trade deals and political correctness had been eating a hole in the brain of the population at large, if not anyone elected to Congress.
Trump gave them a long-suppressed voice. Suddenly the bodies hitting the floor were conservative glory boys. Scott Walker of Wisconsin quit before any primaries. Trump then laid waste to the lassitude of earnest Jeb Bush, calling him Low Energy. Rubio was Little Marco. Cruz was Lyin’ Ted. It was juvenile. It was often beneath dignity. But it worked like a charm. When Trump pumped his final rhetorical bullets into Cruz in Indiana, he was, in the words of the TV show, the Last Man Standing.
Horrified doesn’t describe the reaction of the grandees of the GOP when their hundreds of millions of focus-group dollars were wiped out by Make America Great Again, a slogan no doubt conjured by Trump in about 20 seconds.
Delighted understates the joy of the Democratic Party when it saw Trump emerge. Saddled with Hillary Clinton, the Tracy Flick candidate, this was heaven sent. In what should have been a sure loss trying the peddle an empty pantsuit as America’s first woman president, they now had an open lane to the White House. How lucky can one party get?
So, Clinton has been trying to belittle her opponent. Well, as much as a charisma-deprived entitlement queen can belittle someone. (Mostly it looks like Eleanor Roosevelt trying to do rap.) No matter, this is still going to be a Cake Walk, the Dems were told by their media wazzirs. The same media geniuses who told themselves the previous October that, by golly, they just didn’t know anyone in their co-op who was voting for Trump.
The media polls, we were told, said Trump was going to lose every state except Baluchistan. His unfavorables were epic, his numbers with women and minorities cratered. But even as Hillary tried to be Don Rickles with the putdowns, the numbers started to roll in. Trump was even or ahead in two key Rust Belt states, tied in Florida. Sure, the polls may be outliers. But who’re going to believe, the polls or your own lying eyes?
Especially with Madame Clinton working her anti-magic in trying to shake the socialist pursuer, Bernie Sanders, who stands athwart the Dem nomination process. Lord knows the media’s been trying to help her. Having sicced 50 reporters on him, the New York Times breathlessly reported that Trump liked pretty women at his Miss Universe pageant. He kissed one on the lips. Twice. Another linchpin in the story immediately claimed the Times had distorted her claims. She actually likes Trump.
That worked out well, don’t you think? Outside the MSNBC audience, it was Yawnsville. There are miles to go before Trump sleeps in the White House. There will be many more broadsides from the legacy media, many more attack ads from the Democrats painting The Donald as a frothing fascist and racist who’s way above his intellectual station.
But having set their target so low, how much do you want to bet that each successive try by the D.C. establishment at halting the Manhattan Menace only makes him stronger? Any takers? Hillary?
Bruce Dowbiggin is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster